Things you might see while biking: beavers!

I was looking for something a few days ago and reminded myself that I used to have an informal series on this blog of “things you might see while biking,” just random stuff that I see while out-n-about on my bicycle. So, without further ado, here it is, back again! With no actual schedule and no promises that it will continue, heh, but that’s not unlike this blog in general so there you go.

But. Things you might see while biking!


(Beaver!! Photo not by me but by Steve from washington, dc, usa – American Beaver, CC BY-SA 2.0,


My ride to work takes me for a section of bike path along the Columbia River Slough, which is one of my favorite parts of my ride. This is where I frequently see osprey, bald eagles, all sorts of fun winter ducks, herons, etc etc etc. Once I saw a weasel (that was cool:), and I’ve even seen sea lion (!!) in there a few times.

Yesterday, I was biking and I thought I saw a sea lion because there was something big swimming by. But when I looked more closely it was brown, so I figured it was a nutria, which are pretty common in waterways around here. I stopped to look at it more closely though, as I do, and it seemed awfully big — and when I busted out my binoculars (ha, yes, I travel with binoculars on the way to and from work too, for just this sort of moment;) I didn’t see any whiskers on its face. And then sure enough, it dove down and I saw its big old flat beaver tail! It came up and down twice more while I watched it. Super cool!!

So that was a fun moment.

By the way, if you’re trying to decide if something is a beaver or a nutria, a few things to keep in mind. Beaver are bigger, though that’s not necessarily helpful if you’re not comparing the two side by side, or if you’re looking at a small beaver or a big nutria. BUT, nutria have long, whiteish whisker-like things that come out their faces kinda like a cat, while beavers don’t. Also, nutria have a long, thick, rat-like, round tail, while beavers have a flat paddle trail. Also, beavers are rarely out during the day, while nutria are less discerning. There are other things too, but honestly, the whiskers and the tail are usually the easiest ID features.


(Nutria! Not a great picture compared to the professional beaver photo, heh, but you can see its whiskers. This is from Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden a few weeks ago)


THEN!! Later that evening, I was riding with a friend and we ended up at Reed College, where there are two bridges that cross Crystal Springs Creek. We stopped on one of the bridges and were looking down at the water and I saw big brown thing munching on the side of the creek. “Hey! A nutria!” I said.

“Are you sure that’s not a beaver?” asked my bikey friend. And I was pretty sure it wasn’t, because it’s pretty weird to see a beaver just chillin on the side of the creek like that with other folks around, but it also looked pretty big, so I busted out the binos for that too. Initially I couldn’t tell, since it started swimming low in the water and I could see neither trail nor whiskers. But then as it swam right under us, we could see it through the water and sure enough, it had a big, flat beaver tail and looked so cool from above swimming right there.

So that was pretty neat too. Beavers are all around Portland in the waterways, though they’re pretty shy and usually out at night. But you never know; maybe if you look closely while you bike past one will say hi to you too:)



Side note: once upon a time during early COVID, when James and I had our short stint of fake bike commutes together, we saw not one but SIX beavers all swimming together in the Willamette River right by where Oaks Bottom drains into it: one big beaver and 5 littles. That was maybe my favorite Portland beaver moment ever <3

One Comment:

  1. What?! Hi! A beaver! What a delight!! How did I miss the fact that you’re still writing on your blog?! It’s so nice to “see” you!

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